September 09, 2019 • 3 minutes
“It is difficult to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack of what is found there.”
— William Carlos Williams
I remember wandering in the woods in Maine, not long ago, and I saw a tree stump. And I thought, how worthless this stump. The tree has died, and there is nothing left but a jagged place, taking up space. And yet, as we know now, trees, for some reason, keep other trees alive long after death. No one knows why.
I had a thought at that moment: poetry is the most worthless thing, the most useless thing. It has no purpose, it makes little money, and yet, as WCW said above, people die every day knowing everything but poetry.
It made sense, in that moment, that I had come to write poetry, and this book “A Body of Water”. You see, like most people, I thought poetry was either slam or long old ballads, or Leaves of Grass for the longest time. It turns out: poetry is simply distilled language. It is crystalized examples of our main way of communicating: words.
Poetry can be a story. It can be a description. It can be three words. It can be a single thought, one sentence. It can be a whole book with a narrative. It lends itself to many things. It’s not all emotional. It can be scientific. It is flexible as the language it is born from.
I wanted to write about this because I think poetry matters. And I want people to know that it’s more than “going light and knowing flowers,” or “what you will do with this one precious life.” Poetry is maybe not something with wide appeal, but it should be, especially today. The problem with poetry is that it takes presence, awareness, pause, and reflection to absorb. And these things are in short supply these days.
There is so much “news” now, it’s almost impossible to get away from it. Endless feeds of every kind, enouraging a kind of incessant need to consume. Continuous consumption becomes a habit, and there are hooks thrown into you by the platforms that demand it, such as friends and connections, and then the platforms profit from our attention. I am not using any platforms or news apps anymore, for months now, and the shift has been enourmous. I have felt incredibly isolated, because no one really writes letters or emails or text messages anymore. The platforms have gobbled up all connection and demanded that people use them instead of the Old Ways. That’s ok, because it has given me more time to think, and to be alone, which I actually enjoy. Though it is hard to feel valued, as I wrote in Sharing a month or so ago.
I return to thinking of that old stump (and how “the aged pine grows old alone in it’s canyon”). And I don’t despair. I think of how everything needs everything, and by being and writing, I too am doing that work. The work of the old stump in the woods, the old pine in the canyon, the old words that one person my come across once a century, that change everything.